Dario Franchitti held the Richmond round in a stranglehold for the start. He led all bar nine laps at the short oval to win the second race in a week and stretch his championship advantage.
It was a far more low-key race after the dramas of the Iowa encounter last week. But the Penske drivers were in trouble once again with neither driver finishing in the top ten.
As the race got under way it looked as if we were in for a repeat of the Iowa carnage. Sam Hornish jumped on the throttle too hard and he crossed the start line for the first time going backwards across the infield grass. The race went straight into its first caution.
On lap four the race got going once again and pole sitter Dario Franchitti held his lead. The Scot had struggled in practice – he took pole position because qualifying was rained off and grid order determined by championship positions.
He wasn’t expected to have the pave at the start but he quickly proved that wrong – scorching ahead of Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. Behind Dixon was team mate Dan Wheldon, Helio Castroneves, Scott Sharp and Tomas Scheckter.
Franchitti simply drove away, holding a 3.1s lead over Kanaan by lap 27 when he put 16th placed Hornish a lap down.
Marco Andretti, second at Iowa, was struggling. Franchitti lapped the American on lap 46 – which gave AJ Foyt IV and Sam Hornish the chance to follow Franchitti past into 14th and 15th.
The second caution period came on lap 60 as debris was spotted on turn two. The Andretti-Green crew served Kanaan better than Franchitti and the Brazilian took the lead.
But Franchitti turned that to nought at the restart, breezing past his friend Kanaan as if he wasn’t even there. Franchitti quickly resumed his dominant service.
The Ganassi duo held third and fourth but Scheckter moved up to fifth on lap 124 by passing Castroneves.
Jeff Simmons hit the wall on lap 155 causing a third caution and prompting another flurry of pit stops behind the safety car.
Castroneves appeared in second place but incurred a penalty for a blend line infraction as was ordered to serve a penalty during green flag running.
Franchitti kept his lead during the stops but Dixon appeared in second place ahead of Kanaan and Wheldon. The race resumed on lap 170 – and three tours later Wheldon passed Kanaan for third.
In clear air Wheldon quickly set the race’s fastest lap at 16.4433s (164.201mph) as he reeled in his team mate. But there was nothing he could do to pass the leading duo.
A final caution period came on lap 238 due to more debris – but there was simply no chance for anyone to pass Franchitti. He was followed home by the two Ganassai drivers and team mate Kanaan.
Buddy Rice took fifth ahead of Danica Patrick. Scheckter fell to seventh by the flag ahead of Scott Sharp, with Vitor Meira and Ed Carpenter finishing off the top ten.
Neither Penske driver made it into the top ten – Castroneves finishing 11th and Hornish 15th and two laps adrift.
Franchitti gets an extended lead in the championship but he’ll need to keep up the momentum – the tenth round of the series at Watkins Glen is next week.
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